ATLANTA — Tens of thousands of pet owners, including some in Georgia, believe flea collars hurt or killed their pets, even though the feds approved them.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi looked into consumer complaints about Seresto flea and tick collars and what the Environmental Protection Agency is doing about them.
Channel 2 Action News found the Seresto flea and tick collars are still selling in local stores and pet shops. They are very popular with nearly 34 million sold over the last decade.
You might think if you can easily buy them that they are safe.
However, that is not true according to many pet owners and scientists who said just because the feds approved the product does not mean it will not kill your pet or harm your child.
Tammy Shugart watched her little Chihuahua, Mr. Jones, closely. She must do so because he is unable to see.
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“He got really sick after I put this collar around him in the fall. He started having problems with his salivary glands and then problems with his eyes,” Shugart said.
She bought the Seresto flea collars at a Georgia Walmart. She put them on Mr. Jones and her other dog, a Wiemaraner named Benson, who died from cancer.
“It was heartbreaking when I thought about the collars, and I wondered if there was a link between the two. I felt guilty. It broke my heart,” Shugart said.
She is one of the more than 86,000 pet owners who filed a formal complaint with the EPA after using Seresto collars.
“Good boy. I know it’s sensitive, I know,” said Mickey Hearn to her dog, Buddy.
The Georgia woman recorded a cell phone video of what happened to Buddy.
“The whole area was covered with dried pus,” said Hearn in the video. “I was furious that they were, that they just denied it, and not just for me, but for the thousands of other people.”
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Scientists said Seresto uses two powerful pesticides, imidacloprid and flumethrin, that spread through your pet’s hair into their follicles and glands.
“I don’t think the testing for Seresto was adequate,” said Karen McCormack, a Georgia scientist who used to work for the EPA.
The agency approved the Seresto collars for store shelves.
“We were getting over 86,000 incidents for Seresto, which is a huge number of incidents,” McCormack said.
She said the number of complaints should have been a red flag, but the EPA did nothing, no warning, and no ban.
Elanco, which makes Seresto, sent Channel 2 a statement:
“As pet owners and lovers, Elanco takes the safety of all our products seriously. We have policies to ensure any concerns related to their use are investigated and addressed as appropriate. Elanco unequivocally continues to stand behind the safety profile of Seresto as a proven solution to help protect dogs and cats from fleas and ticks, which can negatively affect pets’ quality of life and may act as vectors of dangerous disease.
“It’s critically important to understand that reports do not indicate cause. They are raw data and cannot be used to draw conclusions on what may have actually caused the issues. Further investigation and assessment are required to determine cause, often a veterinary exam, laboratory diagnostics, or necropsy, as appropriate. There are important factors that should be taken into consideration when assessing cases like the ones you referenced, including age of the dogs and other treatments the dogs were taking at the time – this is where the importance of speaking directly with the attending veterinarian as the medical expert who can assess cause is so important.
“Further, as relative to the overall product safety profile, reports must be viewed as a percentage of the number of products sold, duration of collar application, and data on the general pet population. We’ve provided to the EPA additional detailed information on incident reports we’ve received to help the agency thoroughly evaluate the product.
“As per our discussion, here is a link to the information confirming Seresto flea and tick collar’s strong safety profile (data spans 2012 through 2020,) that was filed last year: 0001104659-21-062719 (d18rn0p25nwr6d.cloudfront.net)
“To put this into context.... since Seresto was approved in 2012, nearly 34 million collars have been used to protect pets from fleas and ticks in the U.S. In 2020 alone, about 7 million Seresto collars were applied to pets in the U.S., with the product indicated for up to eight months of use.
“You asked about reporting rates, and I’m glad you did - the rate of incident reports for pets wearing Seresto collars is low and has been decreasing over time. The overall incident reporting rate has decreased from 59.88 per 10,000 collars distributed in 2013 to 17.26 per 10,000 collars sold in 2021. That’s less than a fifth of 1% reporting rate across-the-board.
“More than 93% of incident reports received for Seresto pet collars in the U.S. from January 2013 to December 2021 are classified after careful analysis as “minor” (70.65%) or “moderate” (22.59%).
“In analyzing all reports, the data show no established link between the active ingredients in Seresto and pet death.
“Seresto is authorized in more than 80 countries. The safety and efficacy of Seresto are continuously monitored and scrutinized by the competent regulatory bodies around the world as well as via internal processes. We use a similar, science-based approach to our ongoing monitoring and analysis of Seresto as we do for veterinary medicinal products globally including for our FDA-regulated products.
“99% of the information that EPA uses in their risk assessment comes from industry studies. They conduct the studies, the safety studies for their own pesticide products… Some people said it’s like having the fox guard the chicken coop,” said Karen McCormack the former EPA scientist.”
The EPA also sent Channel 2 Action News a statement, saying:
“In accordance with FIFRA, EPA only registers a pesticide when it determines that it will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans or the environment, while taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the pesticide. EPA evaluates all pesticide products intended for treatment of pets under the same standards based on the directions for use on the product label, which must be followed under federal law. See EPA’s website for more information on the registration and registration review processes.
“EPA registered the Seresto collars only after determining that they met the FIFRA standard for registration, that the label instructions were protective of children and adults who came into contact with the treated pet, that the collars were safe for the treated pet, and that the collars were effective against fleas and ticks.
“Additionally, in April 2021, EPA sent letters to Elanco and Bayer, the current and former registrants for Seresto pet collars, respectively, reiterating their legally required duty under FIFRA to provide the Agency with information EPA requested regarding unreasonable adverse effects, including adverse reactions and deaths, and sales data for their registered pet products.
“This additional information was more extensive than that routinely reported by pesticide product registrants to EPA’s Incident Data System and included detailed sales data, data on annual incident rates, and any incidents reported in other countries where the collars are sold. EPA will use this more detailed information about these incidents to determine whether the continued registration of these pet collars still meets the legally required standard of no unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the pesticide. Upon completing the analysis and assessment, EPA may take further action, if needed.”
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The label includes warnings about storage and disposal of the collars but doesn’t include anything about safety risks.
“So, these are very, very potent insecticides,” said Nathan Donley with The Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation non-profit.
The center used the Freedom of Information Act to see the complaints and internal EPA emails.
“It was really shocking… I can’t imagine that agency had so much information in front of it, and yet did absolutely nothing with that information,” said Donley.
Donley filed a petition with the EPA to pull Seresto collars.
The EPA said it will make a decision after reviewing public input and evaluating additional information Elanco sent.
Pet advocates like veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan also want the collars banned. She said they are dangerous, not just for pets, but also for people.
“When you put a collar around your pet’s neck, it’s pretty hard to tell your toddler, ‘Don’t touch that,’” Morgan said.
“We’ve been seeing instance of young children who sleep with dogs at night, waking up and in some cases having seizures and major rashes on their body,” Donley said.
Despite the tens of thousands of complaints, the collars are still sold in stores across America.
“EPA has approved this - it must be safe. Well, that’s not necessarily true,” said Karen McCormack, a former EPA scientist.
“How many of our pets have to die before we say, ‘Hey. We have enough evidence,’” Morgan said.
Shugart showed Channel 2 thousands of dollars in vet bills. She spent the money trying to save Benson and Mr. Jones, whose health is still at risk.
She recently got a rescue dog named Typhoon. Shugart said she wanted a little companion to help her when Mr. Jones passes.
In the meantime, she has advice for pet owners.
“I would tell them to look at Mr. Jones. And I’ll tell them about Benson and my loss with him and the cancer and I would tell them to do the research, connect the dots,” Shugart said.
Vets said symptoms can include everything from vomiting and diarrhea to muscle tremors, seizures and even a coma.
Scientists and vets like Morgan said there are natural options out there. She sent Channel 2 a video of her demonstrating a natural spray.
Shugart switched to a collar that uses natural oils and said it works great.
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